Yesterday, Main League Baseball launched its 2023 schedule. The largest information to return from the discharge is that for the primary time ever, all 30 groups will play each other in a single season.
To ensure that MLB to accommodate such a demanding change, divisional video games might be dropped from 76 to 52, that means every crew will play every of their divisional opponents solely 13 occasions all yr. They may play extra intraleague video games than divisional video games in 2023. Hell, they may play nearly as many interleague video games. Whereas I do suppose there are a number of advantages to this determination — particularly giving each fanbase the chance to see the entire sport’s brightest younger stars each season — there are some potential downsides that I can’t overlook.
Divisions and conferences have gotten far, far, far much less vital than ever earlier than with this variation.
What I’m about to say might be an overreaction. I perceive that. Simply because MLB is making an effort to have each crew play each different crew yearly, that doesn’t imply divisions are unimportant instantly. I’m involved about the way forward for baseball although, and what it means for long-standing rivalries.
Think about the other pro sports leagues to have every team play every other team over the course of a season. The NHL launched this idea in 2008. Since then, the league’s divisions, conferences, playoff codecs, and every thing in between have all undergone severe facelifts. It’s grow to be powerful for informal followers to maintain up. The NBA has all the time had each crew face each all different opponents, and now, the query of whether or not or not the NBA ought to eradicate divisions and conferences altogether has grow to be an annual subject. What number of occasions, in 2021 alone, did we hear an analyst or a fanbase argue in favor of a straight up 16-team playoff no matter division or convention?
Right here’s the factor. Whereas that schedule may fit for the NHL and NBA given lots of the longest-standing rivalries in these sports activities — Lakers-Celtics, Avs-Purple Wings, Warriors-Cavs, Lakers-76ers, and so on. — cross over between divisions and even conferences. That’s not the case in baseball. Yankees-Purple Sox continues to be probably the most marketed rivalries in all of sports activities. Giants-Dodgers, Padres-Dodgers, Braves-Mets, Mets-Phillies, Brewers-Cubs, Cubs-Cardinals, are all division rivalries. The one huge rivalries I can consider that span leagues are Astros-Dodgers, Cubs-White Sox, and Yankees-Mets, and two of these are solely as a result of they share a metropolis. I do know there are different interleague rivalries that exist like A’s-Giants, Yankees-Dodgers, Cardinals-Royals, however these will not be practically as marketable as the large rivalries in baseball, and we’ll be getting far fewer of these huge divisional rivalries with this new schedule.
Given what we’ve seen from the NBA and NHL since they began having each crew play each other yearly, I discover it seemingly that MLB will comply with go well with in limiting the impression of divisions ought to they maintain this fashion of schedule for years down the street. The league claims it’s doing so within the title of “steadiness,” as a result of enjoying within the AL East is much extra daunting and tough than enjoying within the AL Central. Nevertheless, more often than not, the issue of divisions rotates. In 2018, the NL Central had 4 groups end over .500. Now, in 2022, they’ve three groups with profitable percentages underneath .450. In 2017, the NL East had just one crew above .500, now they’ve three. Positive, the AL East is all the time tremendous aggressive, which sucks for the small markets of Baltimore and Tampa Bay, however hey, they’ve managed to remain aggressive in 2022, and have reached the World Sequence extra occasions than the Yankees since 2005. Baltimore has by no means skilled that degree of success, however they’ve been on the rise in 2022 and have gone 48-25 since high prospect Adley Rutschman was known as up. That’s good for a 94-win season over the course of a whole yr, and so they’ll seemingly solely get higher in 2023 and past.
I feel this new schedule is a slippery slope. When the yr comes the place a division struggles to provide an 85-game winner, just like the 2005 San Diego Padres who gained their division with simply 82 wins, or the 1973 Mets who did the identical, there might be murmurs of simply eliminating them from the playoffs altogether. The 2005 Padres obtained swept within the NLDS in spite of everything. Positive, the 2006 Cardinals gained the World Sequence after going 83-79, however that’s an outlier and certain gained’t occur once more for a really, very, very long time.
Name me an previous head who doesn’t like change if that’s what you need, however baseball has been hurting for viewers lately and pushing rivalries has been arguably the league’s largest advertising and marketing success. They gained’t get the chance to push these rivalry video games practically as usually in 2023 and past. Whereas it is going to be cool for Marlins followers to see Shohei Ohtani extra usually, the Angels host the Marlins in 2023, that means followers in Miami nonetheless gained’t get to see Ohtani play subsequent season.
I don’t suppose we’re far faraway from a future the place divisions and conferences are eradicated altogether. Whereas I do imagine MLB will make each effort to maintain long-standing rivalries intact, the truth that these groups are in the identical division holds no long-standing motive as to why these groups have to face one another quite a few occasions sooner or later. If something, having these groups in the identical division has been used as a framing gadget with a purpose to schedule extra rivalry video games. Nevertheless, if the league is set on instituting a “balanced” schedule, then the following logical step can be for each crew to play each different crew an equal quantity of occasions. Relying on MLB’s industrial success over the following few years with these schedule modifications, I feel we may see that grow to be a actuality in as little as 20 years.
Am I overreacting? In all probability. Will MLB ever even come near eradicating divisions and conferences? In all probability not. Nevertheless, I’m a pessimist, and all the time have a look at the worst-case state of affairs, and I don’t fairly know the way to really feel about this potential future simply but.